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Founder's Day

Thomas Jefferson Foundation Medalists

"This year’s winners have pushed the boundaries of form and function, explored the depths of the oceans, and fought for truth and justice."
-Jim Ryan, president of UVA 


On April 12, the University of Virginia and the Thomas Jefferson Foundation at Monticello will present their highest honors, the 2019 Thomas Jefferson Foundation Medals in Architecture, Law, and Citizen Leadership, respectively, to:

  • Architecture: Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa, co-founders of the Tokyo-based firm SANAA whose major projects span the globe from Tokyo to Paris and Milan;

  • Law: Carlton Reeves, a federal judge on the United States District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi who has ruled in a number of important cases involving equality and civil rights. Reeves is the second African American appointed to a federal judgeship in Mississippi, following a nomination by President Barack Obama in 2010.

  • Citizen Leadership: Sylvia Earle, an oceanographer, explorer, author and lecturer named a Living Legend by the Library of Congress

For a complete list of past recipients in each category, please click here.


“Jefferson’s vision for this nation (and the world) began with his belief in progress. We are honored to welcome the 2019 Thomas Jefferson Foundation Medalists who serve as an inspiration to future leaders. Like Jefferson, they have shaped our world for the better.”
-Leslie Greene Bowman, president and CEO of the Thomas Jefferson Foundation

Thomas Jefferson Foundation Medal in Architecture:

Portrait of Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa, the 2019 recipients of the Thomas Jefferson Foundation Medal in Architecture. Photo taken by Takashi Okamoto.Japanese architects Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa, co-founders of the Tokyo-based firm SANAA, are the 2019 recipients of the Thomas Jefferson Foundation Medal in Architecture. 

Sejima studied architecture at the Japan Women’s University and launched her own practice in 1987. In 1995, Sejima partnered with Nishizawa to found the Tokyo-based firm SANAA (Sejima + Nishizawa and Associates). Nishizawa studied architecture at Yokohama National University, and in addition to his work with Sejima, has also maintained an independent practice since 1997. 

Sejima and Nishizawa were jointly awarded the Golden Lion at the 9th Venice Architecture Biennale in 2004 and were recipients of the Pritzker Architecture Prize in 2010, honoring their significant contributions to humanity and the built environment through the art of architecture. 

A citation for the Pritzker prize noted, “They often opt for non-hierarchical spaces, or in their own words, the ‘equivalence of spaces,’ creating unpretentious, democratic buildings according to the task and budget at hand.” School of Architecture Dean Ila Berman agreed.

“In a contemporary world that so often lauds excess, SANAA’s highly inventive and carefully crafted works expose the immense power of restraint, precision and synthesis in design,” Berman said. “They create light-filled spaces of serenity and extreme beauty, that are sublime yet always inviting and open. There are few architects whose work is so truly exceptional and yet, simultaneously so highly accessible.” 

SANAA’s major works include the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art in Kanazawa, Japan; the Christian Dior Omotesando Building in Tokyo, Japan; the New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York; the Rolex Learning Center at the Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne in Switzerland; and the Louvre-Lens in France. Current projects include La Samaritaine in Paris, Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design in Jerusalem and Bocconi University campus in Milan. 

Their work is known for its carefully crafted connections between building and landscape, and its ability to provide people with meaningful experiences with their surroundings. Whether rural, as powerfully expressed in their Grace Farms project in New Canaan, Connecticut, or urban, such as The New Museum in the Bowery neighborhood of New York City, SANAA’s architecture has been described as creating a sense of fullness and experiential richness. 

They will give a public talk on Friday, April 12 at 3 p.m. in the Old Cabell Hall auditorium.

The above photo of Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa was taken by Takashi Okamoto.


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Thomas Jefferson Foundation Medal in Law:

Portrait of Judge Carlton Reeves, the 2019 recipient of the Thomas Jefferson Foundation Medal in Law. Photo taken by Christina Cannon.U.S. Judge Carlton W. Reeves, a 1989 graduate of the University of Virginia School of Law, has been named this year’s recipient of the Thomas Jefferson Foundation Medal in Law. 

“Judge Reeves is an exemplary public servant whose decisions have reached well beyond his seat in Mississippi,” School of Law Dean Risa Goluboff said. “His opinions elucidate the law through powerful reasoning and a deep humanity that gets to the heart of the issues at stake.” 

Reeves, a native of Yazoo City, Mississippi, has served for almost a decade on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi, where he has ruled in a number of important cases, including those involving equality and civil rights. 

He assumed office on Dec. 30, 2010. Prior to his nomination by President Barack Obama, Reeves, a 1986 magna cum laude graduate of Jackson State University with a B.A. in political science, was engaged in the private practice of law with Pigott Reeves Johnson P.A., a law firm he co-founded in 2001. Representing individuals, public institutions and corporations, the focus of his practice was state and federal litigation.

He received his law degree from UVA’s School of Law in 1989, where he received the May Claiborne and Roy H. Ritter Fellowship in recognition of outstanding honor, character and integrity. Upon graduation, he clerked for Justice Reuben V. Anderson of the Mississippi Supreme Court and then served the court as a staff attorney before joining Phelps Dunbar L.L.P as an associate. He then served as assistant United States attorney, chief of the civil division for the Southern District of Mississippi, where he both supervised the daily trial and appellate litigation efforts of the attorneys and maintained an active trial docket. He served nationally on the Department of Justice’s Civil Chiefs Working Group and was awarded a Certificate of Commendation for outstanding performance and invaluable assistance in support of the activities of the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice.

Prior to his appointment to the federal bench, Reeves served as special master for the Hinds County Chancery Court, where he presided over cases concerning paternity, child support, child custody and visitation. He is a former president of the Magnolia Bar Association and Magnolia Bar Foundation as well as a commissioner of the Mississippi Bar Association. He has served on numerous boards and commissions, including the ACLU of Mississippi, Mississippi Workers Center for Human Rights, Mississippi Center for Justice, Mississippi Access to Justice Commission, Mississippi Center for Legal Services, Mississippi Capital Defense Resource Center, Mississippi Advisory Committee of the United States Commission on Civil Rights, College Savings Plan of Mississippi, the Jackson Urban League, Madison Yazoo Leake Family Health Center and the Greater Jackson Community Foundation. A Bencher in the Charles Clark Chapter of the American Inns of Court, Reeves is also a member of the American Law Institute and has served as an adjunct faculty member at Mississippi College School of Law and Jackson State University.

Reeves is the recipient of many honors and awards, including the Magnolia Bar’s highest honor, the R. Jess Brown Award, and its Alfred H. Rhodes Jr. Service Award, the Mississippi Bar’s Curtis E. Coker Access to Justice Award and the Hinds County Bar’s Pro Bono Award, as well as the Brown, Young & Hall Award of the Jackson Branch NAACP. A fellow of the Mississippi Bar Foundation, Reeves was named the Mississippi Association of Justice’s Distinguished Jurist of the Year (2014-15), and was honored as Mississippi State University Department of Political Science & Public Administration and the Pre-Law Society Distinguished Jurist Award (2016).

The judge will give a talk to mark the occasion on Thursday, April 11 at 2:15 p.m. in the Law School’s Caplin Auditorium.

The photo above of Judge Carlton Reeves was taken by Christina Cannon.


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Thomas Jefferson Foundation Medal in Citizen Leadership:

Portrait of Sylvia Earle, the recipient of the 2019 Thomas Jefferson Foundation Medal in Citizen Leadership. Photo taken by Kip Evans.Renowned oceanographer and National Geographic Society Explorer-in-Residence Sylvia Earle is the 2019 recipient of the Thomas Jefferson Foundation Medal in Citizen Leadership. 

Earle is the founder of Mission Blue/The Sylvia Earle Alliance, a global coalition of more than 200 ocean conservation groups and like-minded organizations dedicated to protecting the world’s oceans from threats, including climate change, pollution, habitat destruction and invasive species. The organization supports ocean exploration, research and education with expeditions, documentaries and social media that focus on raising support for a global network of marine protected areas, called “Hope Spots,” large enough to restore and protect the ocean.

Called “Her Deepness” by the New Yorker and the New York Times and a “Hero for the Planet” by Time Magazine, Earle has worked as an oceanographer, explorer, author and lecturer. Formerly the chief scientist of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, she has served on the boards of several corporate and numerous non-profit organizations and has been Explorer-in-Residence at the National Geographic Society since 1998. 

“As a school of leadership and public policy, we are always interested in celebrating those leaders who make a direct impact on policy,” said Allan Stam, dean of UVA’s Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy, which sponsors the Thomas Jefferson Foundation Medal in Citizen Leadership. “Thanks to Dr. Earle’s tireless work and leadership, policymakers are paying closer attention to the perils facing one of the world’s most vital eco-systems: the ocean. Dr. Earle is a force and one to be reckoned with – someone that I am sure Thomas Jefferson would admire and support unequivocally.”

Earle has led more than 100 expeditions and logged more than 7,000 hours underwater, written more than 200 publications and lectured in 90 countries. She is a graduate of Florida State University and holds a master’s degree and a Ph.D. from Duke University, as well as numerous honorary degrees and awards, including the 2013 National Geographic Hubbard Medal, the 2009 TED Prize, the Netherlands Order of the Golden Ark, the 2018 Princess of Asturias Prize for Concord and medals from the Explorers Club, the Royal Geographical Society, the Lindbergh Foundation and the Dominican Republic. 

Earle will be the keynote speaker at Jefferson’s birthday celebration at Monticello on Friday, April 12 at 10 a.m.

The photo above of Sylvia Earle was taken by Kip Evans.


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Past Recipients of the Thomas Jefferson Foundation Medals